Productivity and WFH: Developers slow to bounce back worldwide as lockdown lifts

Sonatype measured coding activity by country based on downloads from an open source library.

Microsoft Build 2020: All developers need to know

Software engineers around the world are struggling to return to pre-coronavirus productivity, according to analysis of activity levels at The Central Repository. Developers in China, the UK, India, and Spain are not as active as they were a year ago, while engineers in the US, Germany, and Italy are starting to get back to "normal." 
Sonatype wanted to know how the work-from-home requirement has affected developer productivity. To figure this out, analysts looked at download requests to The Central Repository data from January 2019 through April 2020.

Sonatype manages the Repository, the world's largest public directory of open source components used by more than 10 million developers. Members of the open source community have published more than 330,000 unique Java components with over 5,000,000 total versions to the repository. In 2019, the Central Repository serviced more than 246 billion download requests globally, up from 49% from 2018.

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same--here's what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Sonatype looked at activity trends in seven countries before the coronavirus epidemic started and during the stay-at-home orders implemented since early February.

Activity in each country was trending up through 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, some countries have seen a decline in activity--the UK, India, and Spain--while developers in the US, Germany, and Italy have shown some return to 2019 productivity levels.

Trends in China

China reported the first COVID-19 cases in early December 2019. The nation has started to recover but the pace is slow, based on a comparision of download requests in 2019 and 2020.

In the first quarter of 2019, the volume of Central download requests immediately following the Chinese New Year increased from a low of 44 million to 246 million over the next three weeks.

In the first quarter of 2020, the volume of Central download requests just after the Chinese New Year increased from a holiday low of 75 million to 172 million. This represents a 30% year over year decline, compared to the same period in 2019.

Central download volume in China has risen steadily since February as COVID-19 restrictions have eased. After a 16-week downturn, the volume of Central download requests from China has increased significantly but is still 18% lower than March 2019 levels. 

What's next for the US and Europe?

Companies are watching activity levels in China for clues to how other economies may return to normal as many lockdowns end. Activity went up in three countries in the group Sonatype studied and down in three.

As of mid-April, developer activity has shown a steady increase throughout 2020 in the US, Germany, and Italy. The US has seen a 6% increase in Central download requests since early January 2020. Italy has experienced a 16% increase and Germany experienced a 12% increase in the same time period.

SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Although each country had seen an increase in activity throughout 2019, activity has been down during the first few months of 2020 in the other three countries:

  • Great Britain:    28% decrease since Feb. 29
  • Spain:               28% decrease since Feb. 29
  • India:                18% decline between Feb. 8 and April 18

In email comments about the analysis, Brian Fox, CTO and co-founder of Sonatype, said there seemed to be a strong correlation between work from home transitions related lockdowns and measurable declines in developer activity. 

"These declines are especially apparent when comparing year over year activity levels, where one can see predictable and repeated declines around December holidays, Easter breaks, and summer vacations," he said. "Yet in the face of every developer shifting from a seat at the office to one at the kitchen table, the rebounds were less apparent or simply non-existent."

Sonatype shared this data to help the world's developer community better understand the impact of the pandemic on day-to-day work habits. The company will expand further on this research in July in its annual State of the Software Supply Chain Report.

Also see


Sonatype looked at activity trends in seven countries before the coronavirus epidemic started and during the stay-at-home orders implemented since early February. This chart shows how activity levels have changed in China based on download requests to The Central Repository.

Image: Sonatype

By Veronica Combs

Veronica Combs is a senior writer at TechRepublic. For more than 10 years, she has covered technology, healthcare, and business strategy. In addition to her writing and editing expertise, she has managed small and large teams at startups and establis...